Review: Sanctuary City by Ground Floor Theatre
by Michael Meigs
Ground Floor Theatre's Sanctuary City plays on a starkly bare stage where the principal set pieces are metal scaffolding units and the principal decoration is a dark urban mural with random tagging. This set could represent anywhere or nowhere. There's a sense of brooding about it. It looks like a prison or a random inhabited space in a wasteland.
In a sense, it is both. The lives here are those of "B" and "G," prisoners of the city and involuntary refugees from the law. They're undocumented immigrants brought to the country by their mothers ten years earlier. Sanctuary City is set post 9/11/2001 but prior to 2007 and the first failure of DREAM legislation that would have given these teenagers a path to eventual citizenship. They're classmates in high school. Both then and still in the final scene four years later, the picture is not of a dream but of a nightmare.
In those roles Arielle Levin is slim and expressive while Michael Galvan is broad shouldered, short-spoken, and troubled. He's lying on an upper platform when she clambers up one end to knock and plead at his second-story window for admission. These friends take refuge in one another. Her mother is married to an unpredictable wife beater who may have designs on the daughter; his mother is frightened, ill-paid, and ready to give up on the United States. That's equivalent to abandoning her 17-year-old son who's struggling with school and a crappy, physically demanding late-night restaurant job.
Playwright Martyna Majok sets a structure that evolves in the course of this ninety-minute one-act piece. She writes short scenes, often bursts of only a few sentences, that shift and modulate suddenly, keying off a phrase or a gesture, playing and replaying variations. They're photo-flash living videos, not interrupted strobe action. Director Andrea Nuñez choreographs the variations, and the principals hit their marks with impressive precision. The scenes show a reticent relationship that deepens through crises and unexpected opportunity. Before long they're sleeping together, but their mutually confessional relationship resembles that of siblings.
The struggle is relentless The girl speaks angrily and crudely of the conflicts that drove her away from home; exhausted, exploited, and feeling abandoned, the boy recounts his struggle to survive.
One of them receives a completely unexpected reprieve that leads to a full scholarship at a prestigious university. The scenes of the second half of the one-act work depict the return and reunion. Those scenes are linear and strongly constructed. No more variations on phrases or themes, no flash scenes; the uninterrupted structure indicates that the protagonists have settled deeply into their respective tracks. Sraightforward dialogues of re-encounter are loaded with mutual reproach. Something has happened, something involving an anguished 2 a.m. telephone call, and it tests their allegiance. A third character appears, insider and outsider, and forces confrontation and choice.
Though set almost two decades ago, Majok's 2020 work reminds watchers that uncertainty and anguish persist for DREAMers despite changes in U.S. social norms. Levin and Galvan as the protagonists and Kristian Bexar as the catalyst create vividly alive characters, and director Nuñez moves them vigorously through dilemmas and conflicts.
Their theatre art overcomes the artifice of dramatic presentation. Our empathy for these believable characters is overwhelming. We are swept up in the dark world of moral trial and hardship.
May 19 - June 03, 2023
979 Springdale Rd
Austin, TX, 78702
Performances are May 19– June 3, 2023 at Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale Road, Suite 122, Austin, TX at the corner of Springdale and Airport.
Performances are Thursday through Saturday nights at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 5:00PM. The “First Friday” performance on May 19 includes a reception. One Wednesday industry performance on May 31 at 8:00PM.
Ground Floor Theatre believes in “theatre for everyone” regardless of ability to pay, so tickets are always Pay What You Can. Suggested ticket prices are $25 for general admission and $45 for VIP. VIP seating includes a reserved seat, a glass of bubbly and the assurance of helping GFT keep the Pay What You Can policy.
Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at groundfloortheatre.org/sanctuary.